The Day Elfie Became A Princess

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For reasons I really want to write about at a later date, I’ve become somewhat of a feminist in the last 12 months. It’s been an odd thing – I’ve gone from feeling slightly ambivalent about feminism to being confident that I strongly identify this way. Not to sound emotional about the whole thing but it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster - empowering, scary, shocking, maddening, exciting.

And as such I want to make sure my children, both Elfie and Hux, know they can do whatever they want to do in life, be whatever they want to be, no matter if they’re a boy or a girl. I try not to gender stereotype them, I’ve never dressed Elfie in pink and Hux in blue. Hux loves his tea set and Barbie and  Elfie likes to craft guns out of LEGO (I think she learned about guns from her friends, all boys, at school?) and goes gaga for Spiderman. Yet despite this Hux still spends an unhealthy amount of time banging his head against walls (such a boy) and Elfie has a total love affair with anything Disney Princess.

Which is how I knew she would go into paroxysms of delight when I took her to the Disney Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique at Harrod’s . I really shouldn’t have told her about the expeirence so long in advance because for two weeks she spoke of nothing apart from the day she would be turned into a princess. All the teachers and lunchtime helpers at school knew, as did quite a few people in the supermarket as well as our next door neighbour. SHE WAS EXCITED!

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And so last Sunday we arrived at Harrod’s looking like this (above), not particularly princessy, I think you’ll agree? We made our way to the fourth floor to see how this transformation would take place.

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Now there is something I find totally magical about Disney. Disneyland Florida 1999 is still in my personal history books as the BEST HOLIDAY EVER and I literally get chills in our local Disney store. The stories, the characters, the music – it’s so wonderful, no matter how old you are.

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When we first arrived at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique Elfie was given a buzzer that would go off when it was our time to be transformed. A quick five minutes later and it was our turn – we were off to meet Charlie, our very own Fairy Godmother-in-training! Charlie used her magic to summon up the main woman, the Fairy Godmother, who told Elfie all about what it meant to become a princess. We were taught the magic words, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo! And we magicked the doors to the boutique open. IMG_9840

We’d selected the ‘Coronation’ package, which meant Elfie would be transformed into none other than Anna from Frozen. And upon being shown to her very own changing room – poof! – a few more magic words and Anna’s dress and a beautiful pair of glittery shoes appeared. It was magical!

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The Fairy Godmothers-in-Training set to work. Elfie chose a hairstyle, a nail colour and face paints and was lavished with so much attention. At one point she had four Fairy Godmothers-in-Training attending to her every need: brushing her hair (which I am SO NOT ALLOWED TO DO, fyi), singing to her, reading her stories, painting her nails, talking to her about her favourite princesses… it was wonderful.


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It was an absolutely priceless moment to see, she was so aware of being pampered and to see her feeling like the most important person in that room at that time – I felt so proud. She was beaming, absolutely lit up from the inside. She looked like a real princess, and I’m sure felt like one too, as ‘Princess Elfie’ had been her name ever since we’d entered the boutique. I’m not going to pretend I minded being referred to as ‘Queen’, either ;)

One of the best moments was when she got the first glimpse of herself as a princess. She couldn’t believe the way she looked. And then the seriousness with which Charlie crouched down and explained what was expected of a princess was lovely – that she was loyal, caring, kind and a friend to all. Pretty good life advice, really.

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We were led to the ‘window’, where Elfie had her picture taken overlooking her kingdom, and then on to the royal throne where Elfie swore to behave in a princessly manner. Wide eyed, she was given a bag of goodies (a big cuddly Olaf that she hasn’t let go of since, Anna and Elsa dolls, a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique certificate, a framed photo of her as a princess and a little makeup bag) and we slowly wandered through the kids department and out of Harrod’s.

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She refused to wear a coat (it was 6pm and FREEZING) but totally basked in the adoration of all the tourists who kept stopping her and telling her how beautiful she looked. This lasted for a while – two tube train journeys to be exact – until we boarded our train home and she promptly fell asleep. It’s tough being a princess!

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The hair do stayed put for two days (luckily school was closed for training the next day) and the makeup lasted 24 hours. Basically she did NOT want to stop being a princess. She’s taking her princess crown and sparkly shoes into school for her ‘treasures assembly’ next week and hasn’t stop talking about the day since. It has obviously been a very special event for her.

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It’s not the most feminist thing I’ve ever done with her but I would absolutely do it again. As important as feminism is to me I believe it is also important for children to be made to feel special. And on this day I could see that she knew just how special and beautiful she is from the inside out.

I can’t finish this write-up without praising the Fairy Godmothers-in-training. Each and every one we met was so sweet, enthusiastic and captivating to the little girls in the boutique. They were so lovely to us both, even at the end of what must have been a very long day for them. Ten out of ten.

When I found out the price of the experience – £300 – I wasn’t sure I would be able to justify that amount of money on an hour. But for what Elfie got out of it? I think it is definitely worth it. I’m already planning on taking her again for her birthday and I for one CAN’T WAIT.

You can find out more about the experiences (they start at £100) and book online at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique website here. And for what it’s worth, if they did the equivalent adult’s experience I’d be first in line.

Huge thank-you’s for the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique for having us last weekend. We will definitely be back! 

Elfie Is 4! Again!

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I’d totally forgotten when I wrote about Elfie’s fourth birthday fails a couple of weeks ago that we’d get to do it all over again soon after: her birthday party!

In the whole process of organizing Elfie a 4th birthday party I did one thing incredibly right and one thing incredibly wrong. The right thing was that I agreed it was a great idea to split the birthday party with a friend who is way more capable and organized than I am; her little fella Ralph is 4 at the end of July, is one of Elfie’s BFF’s and was the Joseph to her Mary in the pre-school nativity. Hi, Amy!

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IMG_1966The thing I did wrong was choose to make the cake the morning of the party. WHY, Alice, WHY? I suppose it was too tall to fit into the fridge with all the party food but seriously… that stress was not good. Especially when layer 2 didn’t play ball and decided to jam as two pieces. I fixed it, I don’t think anybody noticed, but still. Stress levels: stratospheric.

Sidenote: if anyone needs to make a chocolate cake it was this one . I found the batter stretched to four of my tins but in general it was pretty straightforward to make. 

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It turned out that, despite us having minimal time together to plan (thank you new job and crazy schedule) the party turned out fabulously. Amy took care of decorations and the games, her mum provided the dance moves for the 4 year olds and I took care of the food, the cake and a kick-ass Spotify Playlist. Which I’m definitely not listening to right now. Honest.

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IMG_1989The village hall looked fabulous, the turnout was great, and we had a wonderful two hours doing everything you’re supposed to do. That is, get sweaty dancing to Katy Perry choons and play musical statues. Amy’s ‘Pin The Lips On The Alien’ was a total hit (I loved it) and I think we had 20 very satisfied (and hyperactive) customers come 3pm.

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As we’d said the kids could come in fancy dress Elfie wanted to be Princess Elsa (obvs – she looked beautiful) and Ralph was a dashing Spiderman.  Hux was ‘boy in jeans and tshirt who was just going to run around like a maniac and spill things anyway’. He carried it well.

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There was a Pimms station for the grownups, because what is a kid’s party without a little bit of booze? Calm down mumsnet, it was post-midday (but we still would have had one if it wasn’t… ;). Amy was given the fantastic Pimms vessel for her recent wedding and you can get it at John Lewis here for £20 or even cheaper if you check out these offers . It was genius.

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IMG_2019And the cake! The sparklers were amazing and the birthday boy and girl did a great job of blowing out the candles together. Party bags were handed out, the mums (and dads and aunties and grandparents) tidied up and sighed in relief that kids only have one birthday a year. I don’t know about Amy but I went home and took a good long nap. And ate a piece of that cake.

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Happy birthday (again) gorgeous girl! What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of your pre-school years with your very best friends. How about next year we just take a couple of them to the cinema?!

Sometimes Shit Days Happen (Alternative Title: Happy Birthday, Elfie!)

 

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In my infinite wisdom I decided that Monday was going to be a big day for Elfie.

It was her 4th birthday so it was already huge. So huge that she padded into my bedroom at 4.55am to say “is it now, mummy? Am I four?”.

(My answer: “you are not four til 7 o’clock. Go back to bed”. She didn’t)

I don’t know if it was the fact I was knackered or that I was just giddy at the thought of an exciting day off work with my kids but at about 8am I decided that Monday would be the day Elfie gave up her dummy.

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Raising Daughters

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The parenting of little girls is a job that is so special. Boys are boys and boys are awesome, but compared to our daughters they really are as different as slugs, snails and puppy dog tails.

Yesterday I did something that doesn’t happen enough in our house; I took Elfie on a little day out, just the two of us. We had an appointment with her new consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital – and as an aside, what a wonderful place this is. I thank heavens every day that we have the NHS and such open access to brilliant doctors (ours is a Professor, oooh fancy). I’d promised her a lovely meal out afterwards and as she can’t get enough of public transport I made sure we went on both a tube, a bus, and then in a black cab for good measure.

We had a brilliant time together, and for me the day brought home how precious and important this time with my little girl is. Elfie is such a deep thinker, a deep feeler and her mind is more than inquisitive, as her mother it’s up to me to shape this into the person she will one day become and spending one-on-one time with each other brings that fact home to me.

I like to think I bring my children up pretty equally. There’s not a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on in our house: Hux has pink chinos, Elfie has blue ones. They both play with cars (E’s very much into Hot Wheels right now) and they both play with handbags. Elfie asked for her nails to be painted pink this week and so did Hux (I did him one fingernail and one toenail: he is awesome). I try to buy them gender neutral toys that they are both able to enjoy together or apart.

But in their thoughts, feelings and emotions they are poles apart. Hux barrels into everything, probably picking his nose and giving himself a black eye in the process. Elfie stands back, she observes a situation before deciding what she’s going to do. With school looming on the horizon I’ve been trying to teach her how to hold her own a little more with her peers, so she’s able to tell them if she isn’t happy. But she is so precious and I guess eager to be liked and kind to her friends she’s finding it hard. We are making progress – I heard her say the magic phrase “don’t do that, I don’t like it” to Hux without being prompted last week – and she’s getting more confident at holding her own with the older boys at softplay.

As her mother I want my little girl to grow up knowing she has me always on her side, ready to protect her at any minute. But I also need her to know how important it is that she is capable and able to be strong of her own accord, that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I’m lucky that I grew up thinking this (thanks mum and dad!), only doubting myself very rarely, so I hope to pass on some of my strength and bloody mindedness to her.

These times, when I’m feeling all introspective about raising daughters, this is when I reach for the poem B, by Sarah Key.  It makes me weep, makes me smile, but most importantly it makes me think: yeah… we’re doing OK here.

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Point B – Sarah Key

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me, “Point B.”

Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

“And baby,” I’ll tell her, “Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick. I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.”

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rainboots nearby. Because there’s no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix.

Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rainboots are for. Because rain will wash away everything if you let it.

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat. To look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind. Because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this,” my mama said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment, and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say, “Thank you.” Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shore line, no matter how many times it’s sent away.

You will put the “wind” in “winsome… lose some.” You will put the “star” in “starting over… and over…” And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

“Baby,” I’ll tell her, “Remember, your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more. Remember that good things come in threes, and so do bad things, and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong. But don’t you EVER apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

On Sometimes Not Liking Your Children (But Obviously Still Loving The Crap Out Of Them)

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After the week I’ve had (and it’s only Wednesday! Give me strength) I have to put this out there: sometimes when we’re having a really tough week, though I love them ‘to the moon and back’, I struggle to like my children.

I love them more than any amount I can put into words and this is a feeling that only mothers know: I would go to the ends of the earth to ensure their happiness, I’d walk over hot coals to make sure they were safe, I would (and do) sit in a hot stinking soft play for hours to keep them happy. But there is the odd occasion I struggle with how I feel at the consequences of their actions and behaviour.

Let me explain. I am experiencing the effects of three nights of sub-four hour sleeps. The first night Hux wouldn’t settle and wanted to be in bed with his mummy, which sounds lovely (and it really is gorgeous to cuddle up to that little munchbag) but when it’s 3am and you haven’t been to sleep yet thanks to the feet tap dancing up and down your back you start to yearn for your own space again.

Elfie has woken up three mornings in a row at 5.45am. FIVE FORTY FIVE. The first thing she does is pad into my room to wake me up and I immediately tell her it’s far too early to get up and that she needs to go back to her own bed. She usually reacts to this news with a high pitched whine and stomp back to her bedroom which then of course wakes her brother up. Who promptly removes his pyjamas and nappy, natch.

This morning I thought I’d invite her into my bed to see if she’d go back to sleep after a cuddle. She thanked me by wee’ing on my clean sheets (“oh, don’t worry mummy, it was just an accident”). All this after a night of unrest thanks to a bad dream about soft play: “I’m sad because they won’t let me in the door *sob sob*”. I therefore spent the early portion of the morning muttering under my breath as I shoved sheets in the washing machine.

Of course, the result of these massively early mornings are that, come 3pm, Elfie’s absolutely knackered. Hux still has a nap (long may this continue) but she doesn’t anymore so she’s taken to falling asleep on the floor doing a jigsaw, or on the sofa. I wake her up as soon as possible because I don’t want her getting into a routine of napping and then she is a horror for the rest of the afternoon. Her tantrums are few and far between but she likes to whine, and whine she does. And if she’s not whining she’s bursting into unreasonable tears because Hux looked at her or because I won’t let her have a snack 10 minutes before dinner time. The negotiations at this time are intricate and plentiful.

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While all this is happening I’m struggling on myself; if there’s one thing I’m bad at it’s coping on a small amount of sleep. Maybe for one day, yes, but not for three days on the trot. My cold and sore throat just won’t shift, I assume because I’m unable to get any sort of decent rest in, my skin is in a bad shape and I am craving carbs. Not sleeping as much as your body needs really buggers you up and I am feeling it keenly right now.

I’ve never had this much work on – and don’t get me wrong I’m loving it – but I wish I felt a bit more switched on to cope with it all. I swear my brain is working about 40% below capacity and eating cupcakes is not helping. Tiredness makes everything that bit harder; the house is messier, the washing basket is full, there’s no patience with slow movers in the supermarket and my patience is ridiculously tested. I find the arguments like “mummy, Hux isn’t doing the space rocket pancake race properly with my dollies” really hard to referee which leads to yet more wailing (from the kids AND me, turns out) and when an unnamed three year old coloured in my carpet yesterday (“oh don’t worry mummy, it was only an accident”) I had to take myself to the naughty step for a five minute time out. With wine.

These times, they are so testing. I usually have such a high tolerance for strops, arguments, work woes and sniffles but the added tiredness means I’m so much closer to cracking point. And yes, because this is a direct result of my children and their behaviour, I find myself not liking them very much at the moment.

If it makes you feel any better, this feeling leads to me not liking myself that much very much either! I don’t want to blame anything on my children, to bring every single bad feeling in my life back to the fact I’m a single mum now, but god I miss having someone to hand the children over to at 6pm so I can go and sit in a hot bath and stew until sanity returns and I am a happy mummy once more. Self-pity doesn’t help anyone, but at times like this I allow myself to feel that yeah, life is unfair right now. I didn’t ask to do this on my own and would never have chosen to, and having to be everything to everyone is bloody hard. Impossible, at times.

But this morning one of my friends remarked what a happy and well-behaved little boy Hux was. “That’s all you, you know” she said, and you know what? I burst with pride when I heard this because it’s true. When Elfie singlehandedly wrote her own name on Monday? I almost spontaneously combusted. The hours of drawing dots for her to practice her writing were all so worth it.

These two perfect little people are a reflection of a life of love and happiness that I give them and that makes me prouder than anything. There will be weeks when their behaviour and sleep habits drive me to distraction but we’ll get over them. We’ll emerge out the other end a stronger little threesome because of them and we’ll grow up to be so proud of each other. We might be tired, grumpy and have short tempers, but our house is full of love and that never changes, no matter how many sleepless nights we have.

Now, if I can just work out how to stop all the ‘accidents’…

A Christmas Girly Day Out

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I realised something the other day when I was scanning through iPhoto. Since I separated from my ex-husband at the beginning of the year I have barely taken any photographs with my DSLR. It’s all been Instagram, VSCO cam-filtered pictures that are all vintage-y and trendy.

I can’t quite work out why that is. There were a couple of issues with the autofocus (which I think I’ve fixed now, wooh) but it’s gotten so bad that I think I’ve almost forgotten how to use the darned thing. I had a very frustrating time last week when I was trying to snap the kitchen for your viewing pleasure – I love my new kitchen – and I kept getting the exposure horribly wrong. But me and the DSLR, we worked out our differences right before I threw it out the window and resorted to my iPhone and the lens will live to see another day.

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(Actually, camera buffs: I’m using a 5 year old Canon EOS 400d with this lens but it’s really quite limiting. Should I get another lens or a more portable camera? I’ve always loved the look of the Olympus PENs… a gal can dream)

So one of my New Years Resolutions this year will be to cart my camera around with me. There’s no excuse not to: my handbag is always of epic proportions thanks to all the Playdoh and Peppa memorabilia I seem to need on my person at all times. Where I go, the Canon goes.

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And so it came with me one lovely lunchtime last week. My friend Bryony and I made a date to take our eldest girls out to lunch and for an afternoon’s shop. It’s very rare I will spend time with Elfie, just her and me. Hux and I have a real double act thing going on thanks to Elfie’s 5 mornings at pre-school, but not me and E. So to take her on such a special day out was a real treat, and something both of us enjoyed.

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We started our trip the way all shopping trips should begin, with Prosecco, pizza and flirting with the young handsome Pizza Express waiter. The girls (Elfie and Frankie not Bryony and me) stuck stickers onto their children’s menu while B and I gossiped about boys, friends and the internet. Bryony put me to shame by ordering a superfood salad and I ate three quarters of a pork belly and apple sauce pizza. It was as good as it sounds.

(Another sidenote: Pizza Express have this festive menu at the moment and not only does it start with Prosecco but it ends with Limoncello. If you are a busy mum looking for a relaxing lunch you could do much worse than to imbibe some Christmas spirits with your pizza ;) Please drink responsibly etc etc).

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When we were done we took off to Claire’s, who had kindly sent us a voucher so we could start teaching our kids all about consumerism ;) In all seriousness, I don’t often take Elfie shopping for things just for her, for special treat times; toys and things she needs are saved for birthdays and Christmases, and anything in between is usually bought by me over the internet. So with the exception of good old Waitrose cakes she doesn’t really experience many things being bought for her.

It was really liberating to hand our girls shopping baskets and tell them to choose some treats. I have had some pretty good  experiences through this blog but seeing how happy that made Frankie and Elfie is up there with the best of them. Both the girls were so excited that they were able to choose presents for themselves; smiles and shrieks all round.

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I think one of the reasons Frankie and Elfie get along so well is that they’re both quite girly girls. I’ve always been really careful to buy gender-neutral toys, to not dress Elfie in pink and to let her be her own person. But still she gravitates towards the glitter, the tiaras, the Hello Kitty. Frankie is fairly similar (girlfriend has an enviable handbag collection by the way) so I think Claire’s was kind of like heaven for both of them.

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A good half an hour later and we were done, with two bags brimming with girl toys. Inexplicably, both girls had selected One Direction pens alongside necklaces, bracelets and of course the toddler favourite of the matching tiara and wand. Or in Elfie’s case, non-matching. She would not hear me when I tried to tell her that pairing gold and silver was a bit of a faux pas.

On the way out to the car we took the girls to see the Christmas decorations in the main hall of the shopping centre. I love them so much, my mum used to bring me to look at the lights and see Father Christmas every year there when I was younger so it’s such a pleasure to do the same with my little girl. Bryony and I had a ride on the carousel with our little princesses and then it was off home to show off (and reluctantly share) our loot with Hux.

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The day made me realise how important it is to make time for your children, not just together but as individuals. I got so much out of the afternoon we spent together and I think she did too: she really enjoyed the one on one mummy attention, free of the errand running and domesticity that our days are usually filled with.

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Thank-you Claire’s, not just for treating us and our girls but for making me think a bit harder about the relationship I have with Elfie and for giving us that special afternoon together. And thank-you Tescos clubcard points for my meal at Pizza Express ;) Buying restaurant vouchers with my points makes me feel slightly less angry at the cost of petrol and loo roll.